Nová Sedlica, Snina district, is the easternmost village in Slovakia. The journey there seems to be endless. It takes about 50 minutes by car from Snina.
The closer a car gets to the destination through a basin called Uličská kotlina, the more dilapidated the road. Here, villages are gradually dying out and most of the houses have been turned into holiday cottages.
Officially, Nová Sedlica has 250 inhabitants, almost all of them at retirement age. Ten years ago there were 40 more and Mayor Vasil Dinič remembers when 800 people lived here. A similar situation has occurred in other villages as well.
Answering how he sees the future of the village, "someone will live here all year long for another 15 or 20 years," Dinič says.
Still, Nová Sedlica is being considered as the new soft tourism centre of Poloniny National Park. Hiking trails from the village lead to the most attractive locations such as the Stužica Forest or Riaba skala Hill.
A Sme daily reporter spent several days in Poloniny to find out how the region is ready to give up logging and reorient itself towards soft tourism, per the wishes of the state. The Poloniny and Muránska planina National Parks will undergo the change first.
The omnipresent state
In Poloniny, the state owns a national park and an important Starina water reservoir, for example, which is the largest source of drinking water in Central Europe. As a state-owned enterprise, it is the largest employer in the region, and makes itself visible in the security forces that take care of the Schengen border.
"The state is the master of everything here," said Ján Holinka, Mayor of Ulič, a catchment village for the entire Uličská kotlina. He has earned great respect in the region, though he is one of the few mayors who did not run for Smer.